During the almost two years since the 2016 election, the media has paid plenty of attention to the parts of the country that swung toward Donald Trump — mainly the white, working-class Midwest. That was, after all, a decisive factor in the presidential election.
Much less attention has been paid to places that swung toward Hillary Clinton: well-educated, wealthy suburbs that span the Sun Belt. While they played less of a starring role in 2016, they still pose important questions for the Democratic and Republican parties and reflect a national trend: College-educated white people are swinging left. For this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, I traveled to Houston, Texas, to explore the electoral consequences of that trend in a congressional district where lots of those voters live and where 2016’s presidential result was quite different from 2012’s.
Among the 15 congressional districts that saw the biggest pro-Democratic shift in presidential vote share margin between 2012 and 2016, six are in Texas. The most dramatic swing among those six was in Texas’s 7th District, which moved 23 points. That gave Clinton a razor-thin win and shocked a district that has easily elected Republicans for half a century.
Post-election analysis suggests that what made the difference in Texas was not a surge in Democratic support among Latino voters, but a shift among college-educated white people toward Clinton. In the Texas 7th, in western Houston, college-educated white voters make up about 60 percent of the electorate, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.
Despite Clinton’s win in 2016, the Texas 7th re-elected its longtime Republican member of Congress, John Culberson. In 2018, he’s being challenged by attorney Lizzie Fletcher in a race that FiveThirtyEight’s U.S. House forecast considers a toss-up.
Democrats see openings in districts like the 7th. But was the pro-Democratic trend among college-educated white people an aberration specific to the Trump-Clinton race or a harbinger of what’s to come? We went to Texas to start figuring that out. Click play above to hear the story.